The First and Last Concert of Avalonia Jemison’s Peace Lily

In  by December 29, 2023

Avalonia Jemison walks into the Plaza restaurant only a day before the event, wearing the brisk confidence usually reserved for politicians and the like, but the midseventies retiree carries it better than most. This is impressive when considering she’s also carrying the potted houseplant I’m here to interview.

She places the plant on the barstool across from me and seats herself beside it. When the waitress takes our orders, she says, “Only water,” and flashes me a wry smile. One leg folds over another and she interlocks her hands in her lap as if she has been preparing her whole life for this interview. The world was waiting, no doubt.

“Does it have a name?” I ask, feeling foolish for doing so, but this simple fact had yet to come out in the barrage of internet and tabloid headlines. I’d done my research, everyone had, but despite having experience interviewing politicians and celebrities, one is never quite prepared to interview a houseplant.

“No name.” Avalonia switches her tone to something bordering on irritation. “They have asked that all lines of questioning be directed to them. The agreement was not for me to be interviewed.” She gestures toward the deep green mess of leaves beside her. “I’m only … the translator, I suppose.”

I raise a skeptical brow. “They told you that, did they?”

Avalonia’s smile never falters. “Yes. They did.”

“Right.” I quickly apologize and turn toward the plant.

Avalonia, perhaps, is what makes this story even more intriguing. Moments like these are frequent among our interview, and even knowing the MIT studies, brain wave readouts, and neurological scans, I can’t help but feel like she is putting me on. Avalonia, whether she thinks so or not, is the foundation of this story. The peace lily had chosen to communicate with her and her alone. The designated telepathic mouthpiece to the world. Moreover, while researchers had concluded there was nothing special about her brain—that the plant chooses to communicate with only her—as I sit across from her it is easy to see why she was selected.

I can’t help but feel like she is inside my own head. Reading my thoughts, whispering hushed words. I ask myself what it would feel like for her or a plant to do just that. I pause and search for something there, probing me, but feel nothing. No sense of an organic something reaching into my head and plucking neurons like guitar strings. Instead, all I feel is awkward.

“Let’s get right to it then,” I say to the plant, detecting no discernable difference or movement in its leaves. “You are the first of your kind, or at least the first we are aware of. Can all plants communicate like this, or is it only you? And what is it about Avalonia that you chose to communicate with her?” My eyes bounce between her and the plant.

Avalonia locks her eyes on me. “They wish not to answer,” she says. “They …” Avalonia blinks rapidly and turns her head just a tick. “They have called you here to make an announcement.”

Again, even in this gravely serious moment I can’t help but feel I’m being taken advantage of.

“An announcement?” I ask. “What announcement?”

“Tomorrow,” she continues. “They will reach out to whoever will listen. They will reach out with a message.”

“And what is the message?”

“Tomorrow,” she says and places the glass to her lips. She smiles behind it and raises her brows. “Tomorrow.”

• • •

A hesitant anticipation buzzes through the Roosevelt Theatre as the last seats are filled. It’s as fitting a place for this spectacle as any. History feels alive within this hundred-and-thirty year-old building, so what better a place to make it? Perhaps a little piece of tonight’s magic might seep into these golden walls and arced ceilings so the moment will resonate for eons.

Avalonia looks as radiant as ever as she takes a seat next to me. I ask her if she knows what is to come, but she only gives me a familiar thin-lipped smile.

“It was music at first,” Avalonia later tells me when I ask about first discovering the plant speaking in her head. “It sounded like fingers fluttering on piano keys. Changing notes and drawing emotion with sound. Sound only I could hear. I thought I was crazy, but the feeling was so strong I couldn’t deny it. It took a long time for the two of us to agree on how to communicate with each other after that.”

While the crowd shifts in their seats, waiting for the opportunity to have this plant slither into their minds, I can’t help but consider the beauty of that statement. Our digital age is rife with dispute, conflict, and societal discourse. A societal norm we have reluctantly come to accept. Yet amongst it, Avalonia and her houseplant have not only unveiled a world of hidden consciousness, but broken other barriers as well. An agreement in communication. Laying ground rules and setting limits. This is perhaps yet another reason why Avalonia was chosen.

“I think it’s because I was listening.” Avalonia tells me. “Librarians are used to listening. Taking the bits and pieces of what someone is looking for, reading between the lines in order to help them. That’s what it feels like. The plant gives me the pieces and I just have to put them together.”

The  theatre lights dim at three minutes past the hour, and a hush washes over the crowd. Velvet curtains splay to reveal a squat, rather unremarkable stool at centre stage. Ever so carefully, a black-clad technician walks from stage left, with the peace lily cradled in her arms. There are no microphones. No speakers, sound system, or mixing board, only a potted peace lily placed ever so gently on top of a stool.

The room leans closer in unison. Inspecting the slight droop of its leaves and the bone-white flowers stretching from its centre. Everyone anxious to feel this houseplant speak into their mind.

Avalonia reaches a hand over to my own and squeezes. Her face is soft when I turn to her, tears glistening from both her wrinkled cheeks, yet not a hint of sadness remains. Instead, she beams like a proud parent. I reciprocate the gesture, and turn back to the potted plant sitting centre stage of a packed auditorium, and together, the room waits.

The voice that comes next, the one that shakes the world, is not a voice at all, but music.

Reports will vary wildly from this point in the night. Each individual claims to have experienced it differently, but from one person to the next there is one constant within the stories. The connection between us all is the music.

It is not like speech or even text for that matter, but only describable as a connection. A handhold so intimate and encompassing it defies explanation. It searches you, cocoons you while probing within your centre. And within there, you find a sound. The sound of life and death and light and dark and everything yet nothing, resonating within you as if you are now the instrument. We all are in this symphony of existence.

Without a doubt, this is the message.

No reaction feels inappropriate among the 3875 in attendance. Some cry. Some stand rigid and stoic in their seats. Some rise with arms spread wide and chins raised to the heavens. Some fall to their knees, or scream as if on fire, but the message is clear.

The music finally fades, and the peace lily’s warm tendril of thought slides free from our minds. The crowd calms and turns back toward the stage. We all watch as the first leaf falls—withered and brightening to a sickly yellow—fluttering down to the floor. We all watch, and we know it won’t be the last.

Avalonia has slipped away at some point during the plant’s performance. I wait as the place clears out, hoping she’ll come back, but she never returns.

In that time, however, I watch as total strangers become friends. People bond over something they will spend the rest of their lives trying to explain. They hold one another, shake hands, smile, cry, and for the first time in some of their lives, agree on how to communicate with one another. Time is a fleeting thing, and as the world turns back toward that gilded stage, watching, waiting for the last leaf to fall, or for the peace lily to speak to us once again, we must ask ourselves, how long? Where will we be? But perhaps most importantly, who will be there to hold your hand when the last leaf falls?

Copyright © 2023 Matt Bliss

Feature image credit:

Composite by Katrina Archer from Depositphotos stock images

Did you like this story?

Support more great stories like this by buying our latest anthology.

Matt Bliss

Matt Bliss is a construction worker turned speculative fiction writer from Las Vegas, Nevada. His short fiction has appeared in Diabolical Plots, MetaStellar, and Etherea Magazine, among other published and forthcoming works. When he’s not attempting to telepathically communicate with his house-plants, you can find him on Twitter at @MattJBliss.

Did you like this %work_type_singular%?

Support more great %work_type_plural% like this by buying our latest anthology.

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%
More By %author_first_name%

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%

%author_name%

%author_rich_text_bio%
More By %author_first_name%
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram